The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp.
The Zone Of Interest explores the banality of evil. So said literally every review. So you would think I would have been prepared, right?
I am not sure, however, that anything could have prepared me for Jonathan Glazer's stunning film. While The Zone of Interest does examine the banality of evil, it also looks at the occupation of evil (don't stop to think whatever you do), the organisation of evil and the detachment of evil.
Sandra Hüller gives another brilliant performance as Hedwig - as does Christian Friedel as Ruldof. In an interview in the March issue of Sight and Sound magazine, Glazer explained that he wanted to maintain a "critical distance" from these characters. The director and his cinematographer, Lukasz Zal, placed hidden cameras around the house and garden. The actors then performed without seeing the cameras or the film's crew.
Neither character is portrayed as a monster. They are not "othered". That would be letting them (and us) off the hook. Instead, The Zone Of Interest stands back and observes their daily lives. By creating this emotional distance, Glazer allows us to draw our own conclusions.
Who were these people? How could they have lived in this way, in this location? How do we detach ourselves from the horrors of our present? What does it mean for our future that, in many ways, Ruldolf and Hedwig feel so unremarkable, so ordinary?
We do not see any of the atrocities that are taking place over Ruldolf and Hedwig's garden wall. In his Sight and Sound interview, Glazer stated that "These images are not to be shown, in my opinion. They're not to be recreated and they can't be recreated - however skillful filmmaking could be, it's not possible to look into that abyss. And to do it, and fall short of doing it, is to reduce it".
Johnnie Burn's work on The Zone of Interest's sound design is, as a result, chilling. We may not see what is happening but we can hear it. As everyday life takes place in the Höss household, we hear screams, shouts, gunshots and the devastating sounds of machinery.
These sounds, like many of the haunting moments in The Zone of Interest, feel all the more powerful because of of the knowledge that we bring to the film. The culmination and juxtaposition of sounds and images (Glazer has described The Zone of Interest as two films running simultaneously) is extremely effective and utterly devastating.
The Zone of Interest left me stunned. However, despite the horror, Glazer's film does not feel bleak. It feels important - a critical reminder that we must not ever forget what happened. It also serves as a warning about the evil that can lurk in detachment and disassociation.
This is certainly a cinematic experience that lingers... and rightly so.